In a statement released late yesterday, Nissan Motor Acceptance Corporation (NMAC) responded harshly to recent charges of discrimination. The charges are based on a study conducted by Vanderbilt University’s Associate Professor Mark Cohen.

The study was commissioned by attorneys for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit Cason v. NMAC, currently in federal court in Nashville, TN. According to NMAC, the study is the “work of plaintiffs’ hired guns in a litigation case and were not sanctioned, approved by, or sponsored by any university.”

The study looked at 300,000 car loans arranged through NMAC for the years 1993-2000 and reveals that blacks in 33 states paid significantly more for their car loans than did whites. Wisconsin and Maryland had the most significant differences, charging blacks an average of $800 more than whites for their loans.

Actual racial discrimination is not being charged, however. The lawsuit does allege, though, that NMAC’s lending policies statistically impacts blacks negatively. Actual discrimination would be tough to prove because the lender does not know the race of its customers and is prohibited by law from knowing that information.

It is a standard practice for dealers to add a mark up to the lender’s financing rate. Several automakers limit the mark up dealers are allowed to implement. According to a Nissan dealer, Nissan has limited its dealers to a 3% mark since 1995.

In the statement, NMAC claims its credit practices are standard in the automobile finance industry and that the study “used seriously flawed methodology to reach a contrived conclusion.”

NMAC attacks the study on several fronts, the most important being a “convoluted” method of determining racial data instead of depending on census data.

NMAC claims according to the study, blacks comprise 32% of the adult population in Hawaii while census data shows it to be 1.8%.

According to media reports, Professor Cohen said the study controlled for creditworthiness of customers, the amount financed and the terms of the loan.

NMAC claims otherwise. NMAC’s analysis of the study shows that customers with good credit and new car collateral are combined with customers with bad credit and used car collateral. As a result, the study “fails to take into account customer creditworthiness as an important factor in the amount of interest paid by the customer, and concludes only that any difference in finance charges paid should be attributed to race.”

The study also ignores differences in credit terms and are not adjusted for either the term of the customer's retail installment contract or the amount financed.

Diedre Dickerson, spokesperson for Nissan, says Mr. Cohen has “intimated to Nissan’s attorneys that all of his paperwork used to develop the study is gone and no longer exists.”